Excitement in the spotlight

Excitement in the spotlight Damien DemolderExcitement in the spotlight

Just as there is gold at the end of a rainbow, so a beam of light in a shady zone will lead us to riches. Where sun shines in the darkness we have a spotlight, and spotlights are perfect for picking out a subject for us to see, to concentrate on and to photograph.

This scene is just the opening of a tunnel on a sunny day, and with a relatively high angled sun and the assistance of a reflective glass building, we had this double spotlight effect that created multiple shadows from each person that passed by. I had been concentrating on those shadows, and looking for people making interesting shapes to cast good shadows on the wall in front of themselves. Most people were lit from the side, so there was some light on their face but more on the side of their head. The effect on the wall was great, but the light on the people was much less interesting.

I was just coming to the conclusion that while there was some potential in the scene I was only getting half interesting pictures, and no matter how dramatic the shapes were I didn’t know what was needed to create a spark of excitement beyond the passive shadow experience.

And then this animated chap came along. Obviously excited about appearing in a picture that would end up on my website and in endless street photography talks, he went to town to engage with his friend in a dramatic manner and turned to face him to ensure whatever he was saying was being registered and sinking in.

Of course, as he turned his face towards his friend he also turned it into the light, and with that enthusiastic expression and that dynamic body position it was going to make a good shot. We have no idea what he is saying or why he looks like that, but we can all appreciate the energy he is putting in to getting his point across.

His friend is also nicely semi-silhouetted against the light grey background and he shows us enough that we can see his reaction and how much he is enjoying his friend’s antics. We need that element of communication and connection so that we can join in the fun and be a part of what is going on.

Had I given up when things weren’t quite coming together I wouldn’t have got this shot. I kept the camera up, however, and was still ready to shoot as I pondered what was needed – and as if by magic what was needed appeared before my eyes. Fortunately, I was ready and waiting to capture what luck was serving up at that moment.

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Excitement in the spotlight Damien Demolder

Timing in street photography

IPad man Decisive moments: timing in street photography

We have all heard of the ‘decisive moment’, and we know it relates to the split second in that which the multitude of disparate elements within our view come together to form a single harmonised image in which all those individual entities suddenly somehow relate to each other.

When many of us think about this concept we visualise the world moving and the photographer passively standing by waiting to catch what happens next. To some extent this is true, but the part of the successful photographer is of the active fortune teller who analyses the lines on the palm of the situation to guess what MIGHT come to pass in the seconds and minutes that follow. When we spend the time to see and to predict we can try to ensure we are in the right place with the right settings on our camera, and prepared to capture that future in a way that communicates the essence of the moment.

I liked this man’s hair and the way the light and dark streaks emphasised his style and shape in the pale overcast evening light, and I hovered around behind him waiting to get a shot. I wanted him taking a picture down the river, with The Shard softly setting the scene in the background, but I needed to wait for those elements to come together in a single cohesive moment.

He decided to create a sweep panorama with his iPad Mini, and I could see he was going to swing from left to right as he captured the view, so I quickly composed my own view so that I would be ready for the moment his iPad was in the right place. As I have a building in the shot we need to activate our mental architecture mode, making it essential to keep the camera upright and straight so the viewer doesn’t have to face the distractions of London falling over. Guessing where the iPad would be I set my AF point for that spot using the Touch AF feature of the camera I was using. This allows the photographer to position the focus anywhere in the scene by touching that place on the rear screen. I set a wide aperture of f/1.2 to create a tiny depth of field that would blur the background behind the iPad and even the man’s hair in front of it.

And as he swung the iPad in to position I was ready and just had to trigger the shutter at precisely that moment.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Leica DG Noctilux 42.5mm f/1.2

 

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Photographing graphic shapes

Photographing graphic shapes Damien Demolder in London. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

Photographing graphic shapes – creating a frame

Most built-up areas are created using three basic shapes and the variations on them; rectangles, triangles and circles. Alongside those basic shapes we have the lines that define their edges and demonstrate their existence. When we recognise these shapes, and acknowledge that they are the foundations of the city structure, we can begin to make the most of them in our pictures. And when we do that, we tap into an awareness that can create really powerful images.

This picture is all about shapes and the lines that create them. The shapes of the world this man lives in are hard-edged and rigid, while his own shape is rounded, organic and soft – so he stands out against the foreground and the background. That act of standing out makes us aware that he is the subject, but only in the sense that his presence makes the hard/soft contrast possible – and it is that contrast that helps us to notice the hardness, rigidity and geometry of the world around him.

The frame

I shot this through a vast metal sculpture at Liverpool Street station’s Broadgate Circle entrance, in London. Looking between the great sheets of metal, I liked the way a giant doorway could be formed and the way the soft light of the overcast morning was bleeding into the deep dark shadow inside the structure itself.

The viewer’s first thought on seeing the image is probably that we are looking through a four sided aperture, but the four-sided idea comes only from the fact that the triangle made by the converging edges of the metal sheets meets the top of a wall that leads into another darkness in the distance. The two dark areas can play the trick of fooling us that they are one – and the overall visual effect is that they are as between them they contain our attention and hold all the action.

Composition and shooting position

I had to position myself quite carefully to ensure that I made the most of the shapes and lines on offer here. To get the full impact of a structure and its angles it’s important to have some sort of baseline that grounds us and lets us know we are standing straight and upright ourselves. In this picture that levelling anchor is the group of lines on the steps – that travel left to right parallel to the bottom edge of the frame. These, whether we recognise it immediately or not, let us know we are upright and perpendicular. When we know that, we can appreciate the relationships of all the other lines and shapes in the picture – that they really are off at an angle, and that it isn’t just us leaning over ourselves.

The lines of the steps are a strong visual element as they contain so much contrast themselves. The treads are lit from above, while the risers are comparatively dark. The combination makes a series of black and white lines, running like those on a sheet of ruled writing paper. They are powerful and influence our perception of the scene. That they are straight, and that our brain knows that, allows us to see the slope of the path, the diagonal of the handrail, the man’s upward journey and the angled edges of the sculpture.

The right man

I shot quite a few images from this position, as I experimented with composition and the different types of people using the path. Once I was satisfied with the camera angle and my exposure, I just had to wait for the right person. While it is easy to project what you think the right person will look like before they arrive, we should always be ready for whatever comes along. Here I knew I wanted a ‘city person’, and a suited worker would fit the bill, but with the light-toned background I had expected to be making a silhouette of someone in black. It didn’t occur to me that Colombo would come by, with a pale raincoat and newspaper – but he did, and I’m very grateful for that.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Taylor, Taylor and Hobson 2in f/2 Telekinic lens via a C-Mount adapter

 

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Photographing graphic shapes Damien Demolder in London. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

Photographing graphic shapes Damien Demolder in London. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

 

 

 

Photographing light – when the subject isn’t an object

Light, No Light

When we talk about pictures we are taking, have taken or are going to take, most often we do so in terms of what that picture is of. We talk about that amazing giraffe, or the beautiful river winding through the landscape, the smiling child or the delicate flower. We rarely describe a picture by explaining the way the light was at that moment. And yet light is the most important element of any photograph, so perhaps that is what we should be talking about and when we go shooting that’s what we should be actively seeking out.
I shot this picture because I liked the way the morning sun was reflecting from the side of a modern office building in London, creating these coloured stripes on the pavement. It was the stripes and their colour that made me stop, and they inspired me to take the picture. The stripes aren’t an object, but they are the subject of the picture.

An added element

These pretty coloured bands are enough on their own to make a picture – an abstract set of lines bending from one side of the frame to the other – but I wanted to add some human life to the scene for scale and extra interest. I noticed that as people entered or left the lit patch they cast their shadow across the stripes, making a shape perpendicular to the flow of the scene, and creating a number of intersections that drew the eye.
I waited for the right person, with the right shape, to walk into the right place in the scene, and was reasonably quickly rewarded by this girl strolling into the area that cast her shadow between the green stripes, over the more brightly lit and colourless zone. Her shadow fits perfectly, and as her head’s shadow entered the frame her feet, with the catch-lights on her shoes, were preparing to make their way out. Everything came together in a cocktail of luck, anticipation, planning and patience.

Exposing for the more important tones

Stripes levels. Damien DemolderTo make the most of the colours of the light I had to take control of the camera’s exposure system. To the camera this is a dark scene that needs lightening. To my brain it was a scene in which the lightest areas needed to be a more moderate brightness so that the colours wouldn’t bleach out. I had to make a dramatic adjustment with the camera’s exposure compensation feature, turning the brightness down to -1.7EV. I have black in the scene, and there are light tones that are close to white. Although the picture looks very dark there are actually few real blacks and the histogram shows tones right up to 252.

It is a picture of light, and the exposure has to take that into account. Your camera is designed to take pictures of cats, humans, trees and buildings, so when you want it to just shoot light you need to take full control and tell it very clearly how to do it. Your brain is much bigger than your camera’s so don’t allow your camera to take charge of the situation.

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Samsung NX20 with the 30mm lens.

 

Stripes black display. Damien Demolder

This frame shows the areas of the image that are completely black

Green reflected light, by Damien Demolder

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The power of eye contact – Dean looks up
Boy looking up at first communion

Catching the attention

I had been asked to take pictures at a First Holy Communion by the father of the boy in this picture. I’d done all the usual shots and had more than enough pictures to keep daddy happy. With the job safely covered I was able to hunt out some different angles, and to take a few risks that may or may not have paid off.
I’d reckoned the organ loft would produce a few good pictures anyway, as I could get the children posing for the congregation at the end of the service, and get that wider view to include the families and guests crowding round to give a fuller account of the story. I used a focal length to just include the kids at first, as I wanted to catch some of their excitement and their interactions with each other. For many of them this was the first special occasion in which they had been the centre point, so they were buzzing.
As I framed the group the boy in the middle, who was my subject, looked up and saw me above him. As his eyes met the lens I checked the focus was right on him and I took the shot. All I got was the one frame, as he quickly reverted to facing forward at the crowd of other picture takers.
I hadn’t known that he would look up, and if he hadn’t I’d have just got some nice pictures of the whole environment, but because I was there and ready, when he did look up I got a picture that I couldn’t have prayed for.
His eye contact demonstrates how we react to other humans. The eyes make us look at him first, and we find it hard to look away for a while. We do, and we investigate all the other things that are going on in the frame, but the first and the last things any viewer will see are those eyes. They are only small in the picture, but their power is undeniable.
As usual I shot this in colour, and converted the file to black and white using the Channel Mixer. The more detailed channel is always green, and its more moderate contrast suits this subject very well. I tempered the bias to green with a touch of red and some noisy blue, but the green channel accounted for 80% of the information.

Picking the decisive moment – at the Bank of England

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Give yourself choices • adding depth • simple or complex • when it all comes together

 

Capturing the decisive moment - when is it?

Capturing the decisive moment - when is it?

There’s too much reverence attached to Cartier-Bresson’s mystical Decisive Moment – the moment in which all the elements of a scene come together to make the perfect picture. Of course decisive moments do happen, but there is no witch-craft, spiritual powers or crystal ball gazing required. Any ordinary photographer is more than capable of capturing ‘it’.

The two key skills required are the ability to spot a potential scene, and the patience and foresight to wait until the right people walk into it and occupy the right places. Of course it’s important that they are the right people, as they will be making up a significant part of your image – and they have to land in the right place to create a balanced and pleasing composition.

Everyday scene

I spotted this scene in the late spring on my way to work. I walk past it every day, but on this particular morning the sun was streaking up the street and lighting the columns and pedestrians in a way I hadn’t seen since the same moment last year. I always admire the contrast between the bumpy roundness of the stone columns and the smooth flatness of the walls – they have massive photographic potential, I just had to wait for the right conditions.

On this morning I saw that the scene had been set. I pulled my camera out of my pocket and framed the columns and wall in a way that would show both well, and then wondered at what sort of passer-by I wanted to complete the show. It was just after 7am so the street was still relatively empty. If I waited long enough I would be able to choose whether to have the street occupied or empty, with a few people, a single figure or a crowd, as well as whether I had people only on the other side of the road or close to me; to create depth. There were various traffic options too – vans, buses, bikes…

To experiment I shot lots of options, to study and pick between afterwards.

The background

In this type of shot, where the interest is in the relative positions of the moving elements (the people), you need to ensure the background stays in the background, and does not become a distraction. This is a strong background, but it doesn’t take over – and that’s because I spent some time positioning myself and the camera to ensure that uprights were upright and that I wasn’t going to have converging verticals and sloping horizons fighting for the attention of the viewer.

Below you can see five different versions of the same scene, each of which presents a different view and a different kind of composition – as well as different types of content. Even on the back of the camera I knew which I liked the best; actually as soon as I pressed the shutter I knew that I’d got the shot.

I didn’t know beforehand what I needed to create the ideal frame, but when the right elements came together before my eyes I knew that was the shot to take.

Shooting with a compact

Using a compact camera with an LCD meant I wasn’t holding the camera to my face. This risks camera shake of course, but it also means you are able to see around the camera at what is about to enter the frame and where. You can’t do this so well with a DSLR, so while compact cameras are not necessarily the best option for perfect picture quality they do have many significant benefits that often outweigh the quality issues. This is also a very small camera that is easy to carry absolutely everywhere – including places you wouldn’t normally take a camera.

Which picture do you think represents the most interesting moment?

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX33, 1/250sec@f/2.8 ISO 100 and 28mm end of the zoom

See more of Damien Demolder’s recent photographic posts here

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site
at www.damiendemolder.com

Photographing the decisive moment - when is it?

Photographing the decisive moment - Lone man

I quite like ‘Lone Man’. I waited for him to be between the pillars before I took the picture, so he’d stand out from the smooth background.

Photographing the decisive moment - when is it?

Photographing the decisive moment - the crowd

Here’s the crowd scene that shows how full the street can be even at that time of the morning. It’s exciting, but maybe lacking in a clear focal point

Photographing the decisive moment - when is it?

Photographing the decisive moment - all on the left

I like the depth the near-and-far people create, but the frame is over balanced to the left – and everyone is walking out of the picture

Photographing the decisive moment - when is it?

Photographing the decisive moment - scooter

Although scooters, cars, buses and vans are a real part of the life on this street for me they spoil the timeless nature of the Bank’s architecture

Capturing the decisive moment - when is it?

Capturing the decisive moment - balance and depth

This is my favourite. It has depth created by the head in the foreground and a good balance of subject on either side of the frame. The people are also ‘right’ for the scene

 Capturing the decisive moment - the next day

Capturing the decisive moment - the next day, different light

I shot this the next day, at exactly the same time of day, to show that when the sun isn’t streaking up the street lighting the building and the people there is much less to photograph. The impact has gone. The decisive moment is as much able the hour, the day and the season as it is about that split second when all the elements gel to make the perfect frame

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A single bold colour – red umbrella on a snowy morning

Using bold colours · making a colour stand out · low light photography · having patience · shooting raw

Red umbrella in the rain. The Bank, London. By Damien Demolder

Red umbrella in the snow. The Bank, London. By Damien Demolder

I’m not a great fan of black and white images that use a spot of colour. It seems a little forced to me, and the effort that goes into this sort of picture post capture is rarely rewarded with an attractive image. Well, that’s just my taste, anyway. I do like images that use limited colour, so long as the setting is natural or realistic looking. And, in fact, I actively go looking for this sort of thing – not just to show a black and white scene with a burst of colour, but rather to show how some colours can stand out against others.

I took this picture outside the Bank of England, in a square I cross everyday on my way to work. The place has a great atmosphere about it and it’s a favourite place of mine. I like to shoot the commuters as they emerge from the underground station, as they come out well lit into gloom of the morning. On this morning the wet snow added to the gloom, but it also created the luck that had this chap appear with his rather buckled bright red umbrella. While usually this is a monochromatic type of scene, the bold brolly really broke the formal grey and upright structures with it burst of jollity.

As always when I’m shooting at night, or in dawn or dusk situations, I had the camera set to raw+jpeg so I can choose which light source to balance for afterwards. In this case I took a custom white balance sample from the white tiles of the underground tunnel, the light of which matched that shining on the man and his brolly. Doing this made him look normal, while the cold of the sky could be brought out with its blue.

This wasn’t the first picture I took at this spot that day – I’d probably shot four or five other people as they emerged from the tunnel, and while they looked pretty good I reckoned that by hanging on I could improve my chances of getting something extra. It paid off – and it usually does. I spot a scene with potential and frame it up – then just wait for the right person to come along and walk right into the picture. It takes a bit of patience, but that’s the whole point. You need to be able to recognise when you haven’t quite got the best shot that could be had, and that by waiting a little longer you could improve it.

As with the other pictures I took before hand, without the brolly this is a picture of a man coming out of a tunnel. With the brolly it becomes something more exciting. And that’s what you get when you mix luck with patience.

Samsung GX10. with Rikenon 28mm f/2.8 lens, 1/30sec @ f/2.8, ISO 1600

 

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See more of Damien Demolder’s recent photographic posts here

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site
at www.damiendemolder.com

Red umbrella in the rain, London. By Damien Demolder

Red umbrella in the snow. Bank of England, London. By Damien Demolder

 

 

Photographing street scenes – The right moment

Having a fag, by Damien Demolder. Sony Alpha 700 DSLRJust as with wildlife photography it is the shots that show behaviour, rather than the pure record pictures, that work best in street photography. To show that behaviour clearly, so that the viewer can recognise what is going on, you have to pick your moment carefully. You have to show the moment in which the action happens.

Decisive moment?

This moment is often called ‘the decisive moment’, but the phrase is so over burdened with history and expectation that I prefer to just call it ‘the right moment’.

In this scene of a couple of office workers having a smoke break I spotted the potential from a way off, as the pair made an interesting shape that broke the pattern of the straight lines of the pillars and windows. As they had only just lit-up I knew I had a while to get the shot I wanted. I noticed the guy on the left had a particular way of blowing out his smoke in an over dramatic fashion. He turned his head, blowing the smoke away from his friend and in the process propelling it across the dark lines of the concrete. As the smoke got caught in the light of the overcast day it became illuminated, and created just the contrast I needed.

I shot a few frames to get a feel for the composition, and to watch the behaviour before everything lined up and I got the picture I wanted. Going back over those other frames, it’s obvious that it is the small detail of the smoke blowing that makes this moment stand out from the others. The alternative frames have the same pattern and the human shapes that break it, and they have the interest of two humans chatting. But they lack that extra something that separates the ordinary picture from the interesting.

Using a shallow depth of field

To help the subjects stand out from the background I used a really wide aperture to introduce a really shallow depth of field. Using a long lens helped too, as longer focal lengths make it easier to reduce the amount of the scene that is in focus. I was lucky that I had an exceptional lens – a 135mm f/1.4 which I was using on an APS-C sensor camera, so it was acting more like a 200mm. But even if you don’t have a long lens that’s not quite as ‘fast’ as this one you can still get the effect. A 200mm zoom will give a similar effect at f/4.5 on an APS-C camera.

Making the crop

The last thing I did to this picture was crop it to the 16×9 format. I did this for two reasons, firstly there is quite a bit of spare space at the top and bottom of the picture, as you can see from the full frame examples below. The second reason is that I love the movie feel this cropping ratio lends an image, and this picture suits that look. It could be a frame from a film, and the ratio of the format just enhances the sense of the moment.

Sony Alpha 700, 135mm f/1.4 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens, 1/2500sec at f/1.8 and ISO 400

Taken in Warsaw, Poland.

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Having a fag, by Damien Demolder.

Not quite the right moment

Having a fag II, by Damien Demolder.

This one’s nearly there, but it could be more interesting

Having a fag, by Damien Demolder. Sony Alpha 700 DSLR

Ahh, that’s a bit better

Symmetry and timing – at the ticket window

Warsaw PhilharmonicI spotted this character in the foyer of Warsaw’s Philharmonic Hall (Filharmonia Narodowa w Warszawie) on a rainy day in early winter.

He looked really interesting anyway, but stood in this position, against the symmetry of the window and the symmetrical-enough notice boards, the contrast between the order and right angles of the surroundings and his roundness makes him really stand out.

And I couldn’t have arranged the umbrella any better myself.

Photographically, there are a number of elements that make the picture work. Firstly, you need to be holding your camera in your hand when you spot a scene like this so you are ready to take the shot. If the camera is in your bag, and you have to get it out and switch it on the likelihood is that you’ll miss the moment.


The next important consideration is to echo the symmetry of the scene through your composition. I placed the man in the middle of the frame and made sure I had even spacing between the notice board edges and the edges of the picture frame. Holding the camera as level as possible and making sure you are directly in front of the shot (so that the film or digital sensor is parallel with the subject) keeps all the picture elements right-angled and even.


I enhanced this view by cropping the final image square, to add to the timeless feel of the shot. It was taken in 2007, but it could have been 1930 from the look of it. The light sepia tone, of course, further emphasises this atmosphere.


Exposure is important as well in this scene, as a certain degree of overriding was necessary. Left to their own devices all cameras would produce a picture that was too light when faced with the darker shades of the situation. However, these darker shades represent what I saw. Keeping the picture slightly dark also allows the inclusion of the complete range of tones – an automatic exposure would have left some areas too light and burnt-out.


Pentax K10D, 50mm lens 1/60sec at f/4.5, ISO 1600

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

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View a map of where this picture was taken


Symmetry and timing - warsaw philharmonic